Chumby: The Sleeper of the Holiday Season

These are heady days indeed when a soft, cute, and hackable alarm clock threatens to storm the electronics market.

Yes, welcome to the world of Chumby, the sleeper hit of the upcoming Christmas season. I just predicted Sony’s Mylo would own Santa’s sack, but Chumby might be the one to cut a hole in the bottom and sneak inside. (Hopefully it’s not the cop-out product of parents who didn’t pick up a Mylo early, however: “I know it’s not a Mylo, Tommy, it’s a Chumby! Aren’t they the same?“)

This is no normal alarm clock, however. It is actually a relatively powerful computer packed into a wonky case. Its display is a small LCD panel and it’s custom built to not only tune into boring old AM/FM broadcasts (who lives in real time anymore?) but also download web content, podcasts, RSS feeds and customizable Flash widgets. So, along with your morning dose of the good old CBC you could roll over and stare at the TSE stock ticker scooting across the screen. (That’s the digital generation’s version of the “snooze” button, in case you’re not hip to the scene.)

ChumbyhackWhat’s actually kinda cool is that the developers of Chumby have made it completely hackable. So anyone can produce content for it. Beware: here comes the funky Chumby Flash widget parade.

But they didn’t leave off there. For us non-programmer types, the Chumby folks have also made the exterior customizable. Want to glue sparkling costume jewellery all over it? Go crazy. Why not buy some blue fur and a couple of ping pong balls and dress your Chumby up like Cookie Monster? “C is for Chumby, that’s good enough for me… Chumby, Chumby, Chumby starts with C!

You can even repackage the machine’s innards if you’re not into its kitschy case.

Of course, hardly anyone in the world has seen a Chumby in action (certainly not your correspondent, despite my requests to the Chumby folk) so it’s all hot air blowing out of a mediocre web site right now, as far as I’m concerned.

Still, the Chumby, assuming it’s real, is one of the best ideas I’ve heard of in ages. It’s creative, cheap (rumour has its retail price between $100-$150), and, well, it’s a computer you can cuddle (and it won’t even burn your lap!).

Mark my words: the Chumby will come out of nowhere in early December and steal Sony’s Mylo thunder. Hm. Maybe there will be some of those things left on store shelves Christmas eve…?